From Hygiene To Impotence: Are Bollywood Audiences Ready For The Shift?
Bollywood is changing, and for the better, when it comes to breaking taboos in an entertaining way. Several upcoming mainstream films, such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Padman, and Poster Boys, have taken up subjects that Indian society still can’t talk about frankly. These range from women’s sanitary needs (Toilet:Ek Prem Katha) and menstrual hygiene (Padman) to erectile dysfunction (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan) and vasectomy (Poster Boys).
In the past year, the film Dear Zindagi dealt with depression, and Phullu was about inventing low-cost sanitary napkins. The year before, the film Aligarh handled the issue of a homosexual person’s right to social acceptance and fair treatment.
Gauri Shinde, director of Dear Zindagi, says that the Indian audience was always ready for such subjects. “Though we’ve been ready for a long time now, not many filmmakers were willing to risk it, due to the fear of the box-office [failure]. You need big stars to drive subjects that are new; you can never undermine star power.”
Now, with A-listers such as Akshay Kumar and Ayushmann Khurrana starring in such films, the message that the filmmakers intend to convey is accepted more easily by the audience.
Shree Narayan Singh, director of the film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, starring Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar, agrees. “I can talk as much as I want about this crucial issue of proper sanitation, but if I’m alone, it might just take me years to make myself heard,” says Singh. “But if a man like Akshay Kumar says something through a film, the reach will increase exponentially, because he has reached a certain stage, where people are willing to listen to him.”
Trade expert Atul Mohan feels that the advent of multiplexes can be thanked for the increased demand for such subjects. He says, “How long can we serve the viewers with traditional romance and action? All those are done now, as people want to explore more. Business today is highly dependent on multiplexes, and realistic subjects are the need of the hour.”
Aanand L. Rai, who has produced the film Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, says that the reason he chose the taboo subject of erectile dysfunction, or impotence, was to break the notion that the Indian middle-class is conservative. “I belong to a very middle-class family, and I feel it’s my responsibility that I should project the change,” says Rai. “I wanted to make a family film that would bring the issue to the fore.” He insists that he isn’t bothered by what numbers his film scores at the box-office. Rai says, “Nobody understands economics better than a person who has been brought up on salaries. The first thing I see is which number I’m safe at, and that number is very small. The only question that matters to me is: am I entertaining you?”